Open forum on “Sex and the Colonial Archive: The Case of ‘Mariano’ Aguilera”

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The trailblazing Latin American historian María Elena Martínez passed away on November 16, 2014, after a brief, difficult, and valiant struggle with cancer. Her posthumous article “Sex and the Colonial Archive: The Case of ‘Mariano’ Aguilera”–which can be read in HAHR’s new special issue “New Directions in Colonial Latin American History”–makes bold claims about what archival practices can and cannot tell us about the history of sexuality in colonial Latin America. This open forum, organized by David Kazanjian and David Sartorius, is meant to discuss the stakes of this groundbreaking essay, with reflections from top scholars in the field, including Ivonne del Valle, Marta V. Vicente, Pamela Voekel, and Zeb Tortorici. We invite all readers to join the discussion.

5 comentarios sobre “Open forum on “Sex and the Colonial Archive: The Case of ‘Mariano’ Aguilera”

  1. Queering the Colonial Mexican Archive

    Writing and theorizing queer history is a tricky endeavor. It is one that María Elena Martínez was nonetheless fully committed to pushing forward, both methodologically and conceptually. This is especially true in terms of the research and scholarship María Elena came to be most invested in in the years that followed the 2008 publication of her prize-winning monograph, Genealogical Fictions: Limpieza de Sangre, Religion, and Gender in Colonial Mexico.[1] In thinking about my own responses to María Elena’s “Sex and the Colonial Archive: The Case of ‘Mariano’ Aguilera”—the most recent instantiation of part of what promised to be a brilliant book-length analysis of race and sex in the eighteenth-century Spanish Atlantic world—I have been moved to think not only about how María Elena came to queerness and the colonial archive as topics of historical research, but also about how her approaches to history and theorizations of the colonial archives have influenced my own, and vice versa.[2] María Elena’s own interest in queer historiography stemmed partly from her own subjectivity as a queer scholar, but also from what some have termed “the queer archival turn” in the humanities and also from a sustained interest in historical subjects marginalized within (and by) the colonial archive.

    My brief reflection on María Elena Martínez’s recent scholarship has two primary aims. First, it seeks to make sense of “Sex and the Colonial Archive” in terms of María Elena’s larger research trajectory, which focused partly on the meanings and lived experiences of sex and gender in colonial Mexico. Second, it argues that queerness resides in the colonial archive not necessarily through the types of acts represented within, but rather through the historian’s own practice. The colonial archive simultaneously (and paradoxically) engenders and frustrates our desires to know more about the historical subjects about whom we write. It similarly gives rise to and thwarts our efforts to locate the “queer” within the colonial archives. My forum contribution is therefore as much a reflection on María Elena’s essay as it is a meditation on the connections between her early scholarship and her works in progress up until her death in November 2014. Much like the contributions to this forum by Marta Vicente, Ivonne del Valle, and Pamela Voekel, this essay honors María Elena Martínez’s radical scholarship and the queer historical methodologies she espoused.

    In Genealogical Fictions—a book that does not seem to broach queerness in any way, either directly or indirectly—María Elena analyzed the intimate connections between limpieza de sangre (“purity of blood”), gender, and sexuality in terms of the importance of biological reproduction to the maintenance of social hierarchies and community boundaries. These associations between race, gender, and sex were also so strong, she shows, because of how Spanish notions regarding sexual and reproductive relations between Spaniards, native peoples, and blacks “reflected and interacted with other discourses of colonial power.”[3] María Elena’s sustained interest in race and how the concept of limpieza de sangre changed in meaning over time as it was transplanted from the Iberian Peninsula to the Americas was inseparable from the shifting meanings of sex, gender, and archival practice—a nexus that was to form the basis of all of María Elena’s subsequent scholarship, including her contribution to this issue of Hispanic American Historical Review.

    As María Elena writes, purity requirements in relation to one’s ancestry “reproduced archival practices that fostered a genealogical and historical consciousness among elite creoles that throughout the colonial period reinforced their identification with a Spanish Old Christian community of blood.”[4] Thus while the archival practice—that is, the record-keeping activities of the state, church, and Inquisition that produced and reproduces specific categories of identity based on race and sex—was not the primary object of analysis in María Elena’s earlier work, it became an intellectual interest that filtered through to all of her subsequent research and writing. That first book, and the archival research that went into it, opened the door for María Elena to reimagine the terrain of colonial history, not only by thinking deeply through the intersections of social practice and archival practice but by delving more self-reflexively into her role (and personal/intellectual attachments) as a queer historian of colonial Latin America.

    Both María Elena’s 2014 Radical History Review essay, “Archives, Bodies, and Imagination: The Case of Juana Aguilar and Queer Approaches to History, Sexuality, and Politics,” and her 2016 Hispanic American Historical Review essay, “Sex in the Colonial Archive: The Case of ‘Mariano’ Aguilera,” have much in common. Both essays take on the colonial archive itself as the central object of concern, and both essays focus their microhistorical analysis on “queer” figures in the archives—individuals that, at one point in their lives, colonial authorities classified with the term “hermaphrodite.” Both cases are based on mere archival fragments. What we know of Juana Aguilar comes to use through two medical reports written by surgeon Narciso Esparragosa y Gallardo and published in a late colonial newspaper, La Gazeta de Guatemala, in 1803. What we know about “Mariano” Aguilera is from a series of petitions and reports from 1759 that were sent to don Francisco Gonzalez de Cervantes, provisorate judge and vicar general of the archbishopric of Mexico, so that he would rule on the sex of Mariano Aguilera to determine whether or not he may be able to marry his lover, Clara Ángela López. Despite scant archival evidence in both cases, María Elena successfully fleshes out the many possible meanings of sex (as it intersects with gender, race, and coloniality) through microhistorical, queer reading practices.

    Perhaps even more importantly, both of these published essays appear to deviate quite a bit, at least in terms of style and self-reflexivity, from María Elena’s previously published work. Here, María Elena’s authorial voice comes through more directly to the reader, who in both cases is left with a profound personal sense of how María Elena navigated the colonial archives and how she interacted (personally, ethically, and historiographically) with the “queer” subjects found within. Yet for María Elena, self-reflexivity and the politics of historiography (and of academia) always went hand in hand. This is evident in her first monograph, in her role as one of the cofounders and long-term collective members of the Tepoztlán Institute for the Transnational History of the Americas, and in the ways that she sought to grow and influence the field of colonial Latin American history around pervasive yet protean taxonomies of race, gender, and sex.[5] Here, in “Sex and the Colonial Archive,” María Elena’s attention turns to the production of queerness within the colonial archive—a queerness that is always necessarily produced in conjunction with the (queer) subjectivity of the historian herself.

    María Elena’s posthumous contribution to Hispanic American Historical Review must be seen as part of a much larger research trajectory, in which marginalized raced and sexed subjects in colonial Mexico not only become the fundamental objects of analysis, but they open up a space for thinking about our own attachments to the particular subjects about whom we write. Both of María Elena’s essays on the archival iteration of the ambiguously gendered individuals in colonial Mexico and Guatemala were meant to be part of a larger unfinished book project, tentatively titled The Enlightened Creole Science of Race and Sex: Naturalizing the Body in the Eighteenth-Century Spanish Atlantic World. This book was, in María Elena’s view, going to be a cultural, intellectual, and social history that would focus on “changing notions of race and sex in Spanish America and Spain during the second half of the eighteenth century, when Spaniards and creoles espoused theories of human difference that emphasized knowledge of the body through observation and experimentation over biblical narratives of creation and ancestral sin.”[6] María Elena envisioned this book project as one that would draw on ancient and medieval notions of physiology but also incorporated ideas from the emerging sciences of anatomy, chemistry, and physics, thus increasingly granting nature autonomy from God and anticipating modern biological discourses of race and sex.

    Personally, I like to imagine that the book that María Elena eventually would have written in the future would have espoused a similar sense of radical self-reflexivity and archival sensibility that characterizes her recent scholarship. In her Radical History Review contribution, for instance, María Elena gestures toward the goals of her queer archival methodology—“to explore a series of problems related to the colonial archive and queer history, including the power dynamics involved in the production and preservation of documents, the structural limitations that they place on studying sexuality in the past, and the possibilities and challenges that approaching them from different angles, disciplines, and performative acts can present for both history and politics.”[7] Here María Elena Martínez calls attention to how disciplinary and classificatory regimes within historical and archival scholarship routinely suppress queer archival knowledge. Where, however, do the limits of queerness begin and end? And, how does queerness come to reside within the colonial archive? These questions pull us into the murkiness of identitarian politics in relation to the past and present.

    María Elena’s “Sex and the Colonial Archive” offers important clues about the ways that she read the colonial archive as queer. It also hints at some of the tensions made visible by (and through) queer historical scholarship. On the one hand, María Elena’s Hispanic American Historical Review contribution speaks to the “possibilities and limitations of archived sources for studying queer lives, subjectivities, and sexuality more generally.” Here, it would appear that “queer” functions in an identitarian way. That is, there would seem to be traces of past queer lives and queer subjectivities to be found within the colonial archives. Similarly, María Elena tells us that the “queers” of the colonial Mexican archive are those, like Juana Aguilar and Mariano Aguilera, “who are socially constructed as such because their sexual behavior, desires, or organs don’t conform to dominant definitions of the normal.” Challenging, however, any facile assumptions about how queerness functions within the space of the colonial archive, several pages later (and following her analysis of the Mariano Aguilera case) María Elena tells us that “There are no queer subjects in these documents, at least not ones produced independent of discursive operations; mainly there are references to bodies marked as deviant because of their alleged sexual acts and preferences and often too because of their racial status.”

    This points to a perhaps unavoidable paradox at the heart of queer historical scholarship: queer as identity vs. queer as methodology. In our efforts to locate the “queer” within colonial archives (and I too am implicated here), we are drawn toward those archival instantiations of that which has been historically “marked as deviant” in relation to bodies, desire, gender, and sex. Race too, as María Elena’s work cogently shows, is inseparable from this matrix. Yet, on the other hand, the core of that which is “queer” in colonial Latin American historical archives has less to do with the bodies and desires that are represented in the archives as being “illicit,” “sodomitical,” or “unnatural,” and far more to do with our methodologies of researching and writing about sex in the colonial past. María Elena could have started writing her second monograph by working on cases of medicalized readings of the body in cases of sodomy or bestiality trials, for example. Or she could have started theorizing queerness through the archival fragment (cited by María Elena in “Sex and the Colonial Archive”) that briefly mentions a 1732 criminal case against a woman named Josepha de Garfias for “the crime of sodomy she perpetrated with other women” (por el crimen de sodomia que perpetró con otras mugeres).[8] Instead, inspired partly by the fields of queer studies and trans* scholarship in recent years, María Elena opted to focus on the bodies and historical subjectivities of individuals like Juana Aguilar and Mariano Aguilera, people whose biological bodies resisted the taxonomizing impulses of the Catholic Church, of secular authorities, and even of practitioners of “gay and lesbian” history.

    María Elena began her once-forthcoming second book project with archival iterations of “hermaphroditism”—cases that not only frustrate facile readings of bodies and desire in the past but also challenge the ways in which queerness does (or does not) adhere to certain historical subjects found within the archives. In this sense, María Elena is far more interested in the social (and archival) dynamics that produce queerness across time. She tells us that “queers” appear in the archives of colonial Latin America “because they were the subject of theological, juridical, and medical speculations about nonnormative sexual behavior or sexual organs; or, more commonly, because they were tried by different courts for ‘deviant’ sexual desire and punishable acts.” Yet, as María Elena has shown, this is only half the story of the queer colonial archive. As historians and theorists of colonial Latin American sexuality, we must be attuned to how “socially produced queerness” intersects with what María Elena terms “structural archival absence,” paying attention to the fascinating ethnohistorical details that archival documents hold but always framing them in relation to that—like female sodomy or hermaphroditism—which is, for the most part, structurally absent within what eventually came to be the colonial archive. Queer then, for María Elena, becomes a way of writing about and embodying the past—a way of reimagining our relationship to it.

    María Elena’s relatively recent interest in the production of queerness in colonial Mexican archives is intimately linked to the production of race in her earlier scholarship. In developing these projects in relation to one another, María Elena expanded the horizons of queer historical scholarship for the field of colonial Latin America, always in ways that resist teleological readings of cultural phenomenal and identity categories in the past. She infused all her archival research and historical scholarship with creativity and imagination, allowing her to draw meaningful connections between herself, the archive, the labors of archivists, and the “queer” subjects that came to be archived in one way or another. If we take the corpus of María Elena’s scholarship as a whole, we see how she consistently turned her critical eye toward the archive as a concept, as a performance, and as an embodied research methodology. In doing so, she remains an inspiration to all of us who aim to write about the history of sexuality in meaningful and politically salient ways.

    Perhaps not unlike the scant details of the lives of people like Juana Aguilar or Mariano Aguilera—largely lost to us given the spotted nature of the colonial archive and the documents within—the book project that María Elena envisioned coming out of these (and many more) articles and chapters, archive trips, conferences, and cabarets evades our desire to learn more both the project and about how she would have imagined it. María Elena will never finish her book on race and sex in the eighteenth-century Spanish Atlantic world that she once aimed to write. This project is, however, one to which we can all contribute—a means of remaining forever in dialogue with a phenomenally creative and theoretically incisive scholar whose efforts to expand the boundaries of colonial Latin American history will be cherished (yet never fully graspable) in terms of all their potential. In this sense, both María Elena and her unfinished work become yet another archival absence—one that is intensely felt by those who knew her, read her, and wished to see so much more. Perhaps all of María Elena’s published and unpublished scholarship might best be thought of in ways that are most familiar to historians: they are archival fragments that hauntingly remind us of what once was, what may have been, and what one day may be possible.


    [1] María Elena Martínez, Genealogical Fictions: Limpieza de Sangre, Religion, and Gender in Colonial Mexico (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2008).

    [2] My own self-reflexive, embodied approach to the archiving of the pecados contra natura—the “sins against nature” of sodomy, bestiality, and masturbation—in colonial New Spain developed partly in relation to self-reflexive archival turns in the scholarship of María Elena Martínez and Kathryn Burns. These interests also converged in my coediting (with Daniel Marshall and Kevin P. Murphy) of the “Queering Archives” issues of Radical History Review in which María Elena first published “Archives, Bodies, and Imagination: The Case of Juana Aguilar and Queer Approaches to History, Sexuality, and Politics,” Radical History Review 120 (fall 2014): 159–82.

    [3] Martínez, Genealogical Fictions, 4.

    [4] Ibid., 20.

    [5] For more on the Tepoztlán Institute for the Transnational History of the Americas see

    [6] María Elena Martínez, CV, “Books and Articles in Progress.”

    [7] Martínez, “Archives, Bodies, and Imagination.”

    [8] For more on female sodomy in the colonial archives, see Ronaldo Vainfas and Zeb Tortorici, “Female Homoeroticism, Heresy, and the Holy Office in Colonial Brazil,” and Chad Thomas Black, “Prosecuting Female-Female Sex in Bourbon Quito,” in Zeb Tortorici, ed., Sexuality and the Unnatural in Colonial Latin America (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2016).

  2. María Elena Martínez’s “Sex and the Colonial Archive: The Case of ‘Mariano’ Aguilera” and the Paradoxes of Paradigm Shifts

    There is no more remarkable example of what Latin American critical historiography has achieved by looking at subject formation through a Foucauldian lens than María Elena Martínez’s contributions to the understanding of gender construction in the colonial period. For Foucault there is a strong correlation between experience, knowledge, and power, so much so that it would be hard to find an experience outside the parameters marked by the discipline that gives it shape that is anything more than silence or a trace. What we do and say is determined by the institutions (knowledge and power) that from the moment we’re born make us conform to their needs and their limits.

    “Sex and the Colonial Archive” is a fascinating case study of how Mariano Aguilera’s desired gender identification was barred in eighteenth-century New Spain, but it is also an effort to liberate Aguilera from the judgment and judicial decisions reached by the institutions deciding his fate and that of Clara López, who appears to have been his partner. At the same time, it illustrates María Elena’s rigorous scholarship and methodology. I’ll first say a couple of things about this and then offer some remarks about María Elena’s conclusions regarding gender formation on the one hand, and changes to the archive on the other.

    I assume that everyone who is reading this has read the article, and I won’t repeat what it says, but simply comment on how it is constructed. “Sex and the Colonial Archive” first identifies the field to which it contributes—studies of the archive that treat it not as a source of information but as “an object of inquiry.” She then proceeds to present and analyze Aguilera’s case and what it means for gender in the eighteenth century. While she does this, she lets the reader know that she does not take anything for granted—she carefully examines the language and concepts used by the people writing about Aguilera in the eighteenth century—and does not subscribe to teleological narratives that see a linear development in history. She insists on the fact that what is not said in the documents of the case is just as important as what is written. What I have always found highly refreshing in María Elena the historian is her attentiveness to language, concepts, and absences. This article is another instance in which her close-reading abilities achieve extraordinary results. One long sentence coming from Aguilera’s petition allows María Elena to derive important conclusions and to pose questions that must remain unanswered—How did Aguilera understand himself? What kind of relationship did he have with López? How was it that their families and the local priest sanctioned their possible marriage?—but that in their incisiveness, point precisely to the area that can’t be contained and/or domesticated by the archive.

    It is out of the combination of the strength of the conclusions she offers, the possible answers she provides to questions that will forever escape us, and the silences and the information she emphasizes that María Elena’s sharpness emerges and with it the importance of this unique case for colonial and gender studies. In spite of her recognition of the difficulty of disentangling the personal from the official, she elucidates things that had a strong existence—desires, commitments, resolutions, acceptances—even if we can’t comprehend them in their totality. Aguilera, as a gendered subject in eighteenth-century New Spain, is made socially and legally legible only through official documents that in exhibiting their shaping and constraining power, at the same time leave evidence of their limitations. As my colleagues writing in this dossier make clear, María Elena’s essay is an exploration of the constraints poised by the archive, understood, for example, as a confessional mechanism with nonintended, interesting consequences (Martha Vicente’s take on the nonrational elements of Aguilera’s narrative overcoming the archive), but also of possible ways to open it up to different readings (by queering it beyond identity, as Zeb Tortorici suggests). By doing this, we expand our own disciplinary limitations (Pamela Voekel).

    As for María Elena’s conclusions, some of them are not surprising, such as the fact that women aspiring to pass as men were more accepted than men passing as women only because nature supposedly tended toward perfection, and men were considered a clear example of this goal whereas women were not. Patriarchy was the rule of the colonial world. But if there is nothing extraordinary about that, what is unexpected is that this created an unbalanced (again, men were not granted the same flexibility) yet interesting opening to explore clothing, gestures, movements that could provide new, more acceptable ways of understanding one’s self. Aguilera stated his strong aversion to wearing women’s clothes and was probably relieved when he learned that in spite of the negative response to his request to be declared a man, he should continue to wear men’s clothing.

    More interesting is how gender, race, and class seem to be inextricably entangled. As María Elena reminds us, most of the information we have about how gender was constructed in colonial contexts comes from criminal cases involving racialized people (not Spaniards). She suggests that, along with the people involved possibly being well-off, what might have prevented the investigation from turning into the persecution of Aguilera could be related to their race: López was identified as a Spaniard and Aguilera as mestizo. Even if the consequences for the former were dire, they could have been much worse had Aguilera been accused of sodomy.

    If this takes us to the core of biopolitics—the way in which power marks and affects people differently according to gender, race, and social class—another equally important aspect of the case lies in how the decision reached by the medical team in charge of determining Aguilera’s gender does not involve a moral judgment. Consenting to all kinds of ambiguities, the doctors’ verdict ascertained that an individual who according to them was indeed hermaphrodite, yet predominantly a woman, should continue to dress as a man. It is also intriguing, and María Elena makes sure readers ponder this question, that both families, along with the local priest (presumably the same one who years before had advised Aguilera to dress as a man to avoid harassment by men?) were nonchalantly accepting of the situation. That all the parents involved as well as a priest would consent to such a marriage/relationship speaks perhaps of a lenient Baroque moral economy in which supposedly intolerable, sinful behavior was tolerated on an everyday basis without a fuss. The reader is left with the impression that the adverse decision probably not only disappointed Aguilera and his fiancée but also the families who seemed to back his petition.

    Because of this, I’d like to conclude with a paradox that remains central to María Elena’s conclusion: the inability of science to show itself capable of undoing the “evils” created by natural law and Christian morality that lay at the core of religious thinking in the previous century. In fact, it appears as if the opposite were true. Even when science recognized how nature’s doing did not adhere to the gender binary (male/female)—Aguilera was a hermaphrodite—even then, science could not allow for indeterminacy to reign, or for it to be resolved by Aguilera himself. In the figure of the priest, the Church, along with the families, probably observant Christians, had accepted the couple’s decision. In spite of this, anatomy and the capacity for reproduction decided the case, without any recourse to morality or religiosity, as I suggested before. Indeed, this development demonstrates how, as María Elena warns in the first pages of her article, gender was not fabricated, nor was it understood in a linear teleological way. If it could be expected that science would liberate experience from the hold of tradition and religion, it in fact created a mightier constraint on mobility and playfulness: one can always be nonreligious, but how could anyone reject science? This brings us back to Foucault, how he states that in separating the normal from the pathological, for science “life is what is capable of error.”[1] This “error” was what Aguilera had to contend with when he was apparently forced to leave his community for four years and abandon his plans to marry López. We don’t know, though, what happened to the couple (if they indeed were one) or to Aguilera himself. Being prohibited from getting married in a time and place in which marriages were not yet the norm[2] still left him options outside matrimony.

    Last is María Elena’s suggestion that one can find race and gender at the core of biopolitics. The question is why gender “deviations” would sometimes be considered, as María Elena informs us, instances of “political sedition.” Perhaps more so when in play, but whether fixed or in play, gender seems to have the power to subvert the very core of society. After all, in order to avoid further scandal, Aguilera’s conscience of himself as a man prevailed—a decision that even when not accepted by the surgeon and the physician, perhaps saved him from the rigidity of the definitions provided by the institutions of his time. That is, society had to let go of its own limitations in order to save itself from even more “damage”—in this case, possibly allowing someone who self-identified as a man to engage other men in all different kinds of social relations as a woman.

    It is because of María Elena’s too-soon departure, and the importance gender constructions and definitions carry (Tortorici gave us a more general idea of how María Elena understood her next project), that in the name of a “critical history for life,”[3] I’d like to conclude this brief reflection with Pamela Voekel’s invitation to more “perverse dialogues” that expand the limits of our own disciplines. These interdisciplinary conversations, such as the ones María Elena’s work invited and those that take place every year at Instituto Tepoztlán (another one of María Elena’s contributions to the field), can only help us to, in a Benjaminian way, free the past from the restraints of the archives that contain it.[4]

    [1] Michel Foucault, “Introduction” to Georges Canguilhem, The Normal and the Pathological (New York: Zone Books, 1991), 7–24, 21.

    [2] Douglas Cope, The Limits of Racial Domination: Plebeian Society in Colonial Mexico City, 1660–1720 (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1994), 68.

    [3] Nietzsche writes about three main modes of historical reflection: Monumental, Antiquarian, and Critical history. According to him, the latter implies the capacity to, so to speak, bring history “before the tribunal,” and spell out its mistakes, and its errors that have crippled life. Friedrich Nietzsche, “On the Uses and Disadvantages of History for Life,” in Untimely Meditations (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983), 57–123, 75–76.

    [4] I’m referring to Walter Benjamin’s “Theses on the Philosophy of History,” in Illuminations ed. Hannah Arendt (New York: Schocken, 1968) 253–64, 254–55, in which he establishes a relationship between the past and the present, by which the latter has a duty (a “weak Messianic power,” his emphasis) to liberate the former. According to Benjamin, only a historian who articulates the past “historically” is aware of the fact that “even the dead will not be safe from the enemy if he wins.” I understand María Elena’s relationship to the subjects of her historical research—Aguilera and López in this case—and to the archive in this sense.

  3. Maria Elena Martínez’s “Sex and the Colonial Archive”

    María Elena Martínez’s article “Sex and the Colonial Archive” reflects the recent interest in scholarship in problematizing queer sexualities not only as produced in historical times but also as shaped by the nature of the archive itself. Titles such as Alana Kumbier’s Ephemeral Material: Queering the Archive (2014), Ann Cvetkovich’s An Archive of Feelings: Trauma, Sexuality, and Lesbian Public Cultures (2003), and Antoinette Burton’s Archive Stories: Facts, Fictions, and the Writing of History (2005), with which we also need to include María Elena’s own “Archives, Bodies, and Imagination: The Case of Juana Aguilar and Queer Approaches to History, Sexuality, and Politics,” published by Radical History Review in its special issue precisely on “Queering Archives” in fall 2014, suggest that scholars’ use and understanding of the archive needs to be rethought. We can no longer see the archive as the physical place housing documents but instead we must take it as a space that shapes our knowledge of individuals and their bodies. As holder of knowledge and meaning, the archive has tended to reproduce the legal and medicalized discourse of the sexed body. The archive needs to be rethought in a “queer” way, where issues such as memory, feelings, and emotions become an important part in the sexual formation of the individual. This is also an essential aspect of historical analysis that has sometimes been disregarded in the context of the eighteenth century, a century that represents the epitome of rationality. In many ways, the discourse of the Enlightenment masked the emotional component in the formation of the sexed subject.

    I would like to discuss María Elena Martínez’s article “Sex and the Colonial Archive: The Case of ‘Mariano’ Aguilera” in this multiple-layer context of discussions on the intersection between the emotional and sexual formation of the subject in the Spanish world of the eighteenth century. In particular, I would like to examine how the medical and legal discourses intersected with the individual’s own narrative to produce a particular view of their sex and gender. In Mariano Aguilera’s case, the discursive organization of the archive, how the documents related to this particular case were bound together, what was excluded, what was included, all combined to reinforce an institutional view of Aguilera’s body. In fact, María Elena points at how usually queer sexuality is preserved in the archive as an “aberration,” a deviance to the norm, as queer bodies are opened to punishment and in many cases reform. Her reading, however, pulls out those parts in Mariano’s narrative that show the important place of intention and emotion in the text as to offer us a “glimpse at the subjectivity of a person living in eighteenth-century Mexico.” This intention takes us to Aguilera’s own declaration that follows somehow the “confession format,” which became an important component in many depositions of individuals accused of sexual crimes or, as in the unique case of Aguilera, those voluntarily reaching out to authorities as to legally establish their sex and gender.

    Other cases of ambiguous sex and gender in the early modern Spanish world parallel that of Mariano Aguilera. Besides the already well-known Catalina de Erauso, briefly mentioned by María Elena in her text, the narrative of other individuals with undefined sexuality shared some of the characteristic of Mariano Aguilera’s. In the context of the eighteenth century, determining someone’s sex bore two important components: the medical examination of the person’s genitals but also the presentation of their own story usually following a confessional form. Other eighteenth-century documentation points to that. This is the case of the transgender Sebastián/María Leirado, accused of sodomy and processed by the criminal tribunal of Madrid in 1760. Leirado’s case, a year and a half after Aguilera presented himself before the priest Joseph Moreno, initially involved a mistaken identity: someone who was thought to be a woman, the famous singer and dancer María Teresa Garrido, dressed as a man. After “her” sex became “his,” as established by several physicians and anatomists who examined Leirado, María, now Sebastián, was also suspected and later condemned for having practice sodomy.[1] Sebastián/María’s case shares a striking similarity with Mariano’s: a confession format in which emotion, passion, and also imagination are important components in shaping their subjectivities. Leirado, who asked her lovers to write to her as “María,” constructed a fantasy persona for her intimate relationships that sharply contrasted with his tavern-keeper identity.

    In one of the boldest texts on the body in contemporary philosophy, Nudities (written and published originally in Italian as Nudità in 2009), Giorgio Agamben expresses the essence of the political of recognition in relation to the body: “The desire to be recognized by others is inseparable from being human. Indeed such recognition is so essential that, according to Hegel, everyone is ready to put his or her own life in jeopardy in order to obtain it. This is not merely a question of satisfaction or self-love; rather, it is only through recognition by others that man can constituted itself as a person.”[2] This simple statement appears as truthful in Hegel’s as well as our time. An individual becomes a man or a woman only when others recognize them as such. In this process, and more specifically in the early modern period, there were two specific elements that helped to define the human. First of all, regardless of the anatomical definition of individuals, it was their appearance and the trades they performed that allowed people to discern someone’s sex. A second factor also carried an extraordinary weight in determining an individual’s sex: a person’s self-fashioning and narrative, or how they presented themselves before others when confronted and asked to identify themselves either as a man or a woman. Sometimes, this narrative could in fact alter the perception of anatomically derived sex itself. In this narrative, the “confession” model, a genre known in contemporary narratives as transstories, becomes an important part in the formation of the queer subject in eighteenth-century societies. This confession, regardless of the nature of the document, whether or not it bears the punitive element of the inquisitorial and criminal document, is usually presented in the archive within the institutional document that frames it, thus tending to hide the initial intention of the confessant. However, if detached from the rest of the document the confession reveals surprising information on how nonrational elements, such as emotion, fantasy, and imagination, shape the ultimate meaning of the queer subject.

    In The History of Sexuality, Michel Foucault describes confession as “one of the main rituals we rely on for the production of truth,”[3] which takes “the confessant” to liberation and recognition. Confession connects the personal and the political. As a technique of truth production the confession proves to be effective in establishing a relation of veracity with the confessant and her audience: “One confesses in public and in private, to one’s parents, one’s educators, one’s doctor, to those one loves; one admits to oneself in pleasure and in pain, things it would be impossible to tell to anyone else, the things people write books about. When it is not spontaneous or dictated by some internal imperative, the confession is wrung from a person by violence or threat . . . Western man has become a confessing animal.”[4] However, Foucault sees confession as a form of disciplinary power: church, criminal justice, and the medicalized body, all work at obtaining “the truth” out of the individual. The institution then regulates the liberation of the self, and “confession” of one’s “true” sex and therefore self. However, a different reading, as in María Elena’s article and my own reading of cases such as Sebastian/María’s, offers us a more complex understanding of confession, recognition, sex, and gender. The process of confession takes into account emotional elements and “lived experience,” whereas the confessant narrates his or her emotional journey to unveil their truthful sex and gender. Because many times this narrative contradicts the anatomical verdict of the physician regarding their sex, it is a story full of emotion (sadness, joy, even shame) where the perception of their sex and gender by others is as important as their own.

    To conclude, María Elena Martínez’s article “Sex and the Colonial Archive” should be read as a cautionary tale of how the structure of the archive hides important components in the construction of the queer subject: the role of emotions in the establishment of one’s sexual and gender identity as well as the place that the individual’s own narrative, full of twists and unexpected turns, also has in the ultimate understanding of their sex and gender by authorities and society. Contrasting the authorities’ “narrative” with the queer subject’s own telling of the story allows us to enrich our understanding of how sex and gender were negotiated in the eighteenth-century Spanish world.


    [1] Marta V. Vicente, Debating Sex and Gender in Eighteenth-Century Spain (Cambridge, UK, 2017).

    [2] Giorgio Agamben, Nudities, trans. David Kishik and Stefan Pedatella (Stanford, 2011), 46.

    [3] Michel Foucault, The History of Sexuality (New York, 1976), I, 58.

    [4] Ibid., 59.

  4. Pamela Voekel

    If the history of sexuality is going to advance, María Elena insists, the archive itself must come under scrutiny: far from being a neutral repository of information about queer lives, it is rather a ruthless generator of criminalized queer bodies. She vigorously dissuades us from searching for lesbian foremothers amongst these abject bodies, or uncritically hunting for the subjective experiences of those who expressed same-sex desire. The preponderance of written records; the privileging of writing itself over others mediations with the past, whether performative, oral, or visual; the state projects of racial and sexual categorization stored in these repositories; the voluminous record of violence wrought on those with abnormal sexual desires or bodies—the archive is simultaneously a recording of history from a particular perspective and a truth-regime that subjugates other knowledges, rendering them irrational or unspeakable. “Archivization,” as her oft-cited influence Jacques Derrida reminds us, “produces as much as it records the events.”[1] Those of us who use the archive, María Elena—ever the Foucauldian—adds, can be guilty of the same wanton production: we must resist the temptation to classify historical actors with the taxonomies of present-day perversion, like “LGBT.”[2] But in exposing the hazards of archival history from both directions—from past compilers, from present researchers—she is not lamenting the impossibility of historical reconstruction. Instead, she is demonstrating how interdisciplinary collaboration can be an effective antidote to the archive’s limitations—and our own.

    As Marta and Zeb and Ivonne note in this forum, María Elena’s is one exceptionally mellifluous voice in a new chorus of historically minded scholars of the archive. Contrasting her critique to that of an equally distinctive and celebrated theorist helps bring María Elena’s prescription into focus. Impelled by a similar appreciation of archival erasure, Saidiya V. Hartman crosses over the disciplinary boundaries that Martínez seeks to expand. In a public talk last year at UW-Madison, Hartman juxtaposed the criminal records of urban African American women culled from police archives with her own empathetic stories of the women’s motivations, backgrounds, interests, and logics drawn from—well, this she declined to say, leaving her historically informed imagination as the default source.[3] The stunned audience had to contemplate the archive’s vast absences, and the limitations for reconstructing real lives out of documents compiled by reformers—reformers who criminalized African American culture by measuring it against the norms of white heteronormativity to justify their own invasive Progressive-era social engineering projects. Hartman’s readings of the women’s lives were, hands down, more plausible, realistic, and compelling than the motives imputed in the police reports. This would be unremarkable, of course, except that Hartman defines her work as nonfiction. This “brushing of history against the grain,” as she calls it, had the historians in a tizzy—a highly productive, self-reflective tizzy—at the follow-up seminar, and brought the archive’s violence to the fore, as well as the question of who—if anyone—has special insight into the past.

    Hartman’s strategic embrace of what is traditionally understood as historical fiction clarifies the distinctiveness of María Elena’s equally innovative archival project. In her analyses of Mariano Aguilera and Juana Aguilar (“Juana la Larga”), Martínez expands rather than crosses the boundaries of the history guild. She proffers specific remedies for archival failings—examples of how archives produce rather than simply store knowledge, and concrete reading strategies to compensate for the documents’ limitations. Thus the audiencia’s list of eighteenth-century sodomy cases, interspersed as it was with bestiality and incest charges and testimonies, created connections among the three crimes, even causal connections; classificatory schemes, she shows, are not just finding aids.

    As well, María Elena demonstrates that archival silences may have something to say, if we listen carefully enough: priest Moreno Justi’s silence about Aguilera’s parents, for example, probably indicated that they were not angling to obstruct their child’s marriage to Clara Ángela López nor to force his return to his previous gender—two objectives that would normally have been noted by the recording priest. María Elena’s deductive move recalls the problem identified by Michel-Rolph Trouillot, namely “the limits of strategies that imply a more accurate reconstitution of the past, and therefore the production of a ‘better’ history, simply by an enlargement of the empirical base.”[4] The unequal ability of historical actors to leave a trace—to constitute a source and produce a fact that can then be archived—means that enlarging the base can magnify the exclusion by repeating it. But some such silences, María Elena demonstrates, can be made to speak, if only in the subjunctive case. Here as elsewhere, she throws herself against disciplinary borders, expanding them—but not crossing them.

    Indeed, Martínez vociferously champions the discipline. When poets, playwrights, and literary critics unencumbered by archival footnotes dismiss history “as antiquated, politically and intellectually conservative, naively empiricist and so forth,” she tells us, “more often than not it turns out to be a straw man.”[5] Her project centers not on overthrowing the archive as the core of history’s epistemology but on orchestrating the collision of disciplinary truth-regimes so as to bring the pleasures and limitations of each into stark relief: the result is to expand their parameters. Hers is a plea for interdisciplinary community, not individual border raids. These provocative disciplinary collisions were evident in her years as an organizer and director of the Tepoztlán Institute for the Transnational History of the Americas, where her scholarly brilliance was matched by her devastating cabaret performance.[6]

    The potential of polymorphously perverse dialogue to expand disciplinary boundaries was on full display at a symposium she and Marta Vicente convened at the University of Southern California in 2013.[7] The gathering featured, among others, an accomplished literary critic with a book entitled Lesbians in Early Modern Spain, a young historian aflame with archive fever who funnels his book proceeds to Brazilian LGBT activists, and world-renowned performance artist Jesusa Rodríguez.[8] Rodríguez’s espectáculo brought to life the violent rationality of the enlightened medical establishment, of people like the surgeons who labeled Mariano Aguilera abnormal because nonreproductive—with devastating consequences. The artist deflated the pretensions to objectivity of Guatemalan medical scientist Narciso Esparragosa, a figure guilty, as María Elena put it, of inserting the deviant Juana Aguilar “into the archive—and thus to history—essentially as sexual organs.”[9] The distinguished historian briefly allowed the audience to revel in Jesusa’s performance, in evil abstract rationalities humbled by a queer superhero and a rescued, reborn, fleshed-out, fully human Juana (Juana Aguilar ¡Presente!). But she then prodded the audience to ponder the similarities between Esparragosa’s positivist posturings and historians’ owns illusions of omniscience, symbolically condensed in the white surgical gloves required by many archives.[10] For those of us visiting the coast from the former Confederacy in particular, it was a satisfying moment of liberation from the violent rationality of the doctor’s contemporary heirs, and a tantalizing glimpse into history’s queer future.

    To keep María Elena’s indispensable voice central to the ongoing project of queering Latin American history, we should celebrate her unmasking of the archive and her imaginative document-reading strategies, but also engage her contributions to our own investigation of race, sex, science, and the Enlightenment. A few constructive queries will have to suffice to prod a discussion. In her analysis of Juana Aguilar, and especially in her towering Genealogical Fictions, María Elena embraced the notion that as science waxes, religion wanes—a fundamental tenet of the secularization thesis.[11] At the same time, as we have seen, she certainly rejected the thesis’s oft-debunked plotline of a celebrity death-match between liberatory secularism and despotic religion. Juana Aguilar’s enlightened, scientific tormenters, to name just one example, imprisoned her and probed her sexual organs for over a decade and even published pictures of them in the newspaper. But if we subject the secularization thesis itself to María Elena’s own suspicion of categorization and grand paradigms, we may well conclude that it obscures key religious phenomena central to our understandings of new sources of queer bodies and shifting queer lives during the Enlightenment. As historian Jessica Delgado reminds us, to omit religious status from the intersecting influences of race, sex, and gender on colonial Mexicans’ lives is a serious anachronism; certainly Mariano Aguilera’s quest for the crucial sacrament of marriage suggests concern about his soul and proper Christian masculinity.[12] As well, to understand the Enlightenment’s historically specific approach to the criminalization of nonreproductive sex, it is surely worth noting that since at least the twelfth century, sterile clerical celibacy, not reproductive monogamous heterosexuality, was the highest sexual virtue, and that it was undergoing a rapid demotion during this time—a demotion led by both clerical and lay reformers. In a related vein, the shift from gold and silver accumulations to a robust population as the accepted measure of national wealth transformed reproduction’s valence, and thus, presumably, the categorization of sterile sex. And, as she notes elsewhere, the opposition between natural and unnatural that ungirded Maríano’s banishment had an Enlightenment counterpart in juxtapositions of artifice to authenticity. It is worth noting that increasingly in the late eighteenth century, the orchestrators of such artifice—hairdressers, perfume vendors, urban dandies—were feminized and cast as threats to a simple, austere Christian masculinity.[13] And certainly it is worth pondering if the misty origins of the campy cabaret María Elena headed up at the Tepoztlán Institute, with its relentless use of artifice to reveal heterosexuality’s unnaturalness, lie as much in religious concerns with excess artifice rendered invisible by the secularization thesis as in scientific declarations of the relationship of gender to putative biological nature.[14]

    For myriad reasons, María Elena was known to many of her friends as “La Patrona.” She has not lost this position. Her brilliant, iconoclastic voice speaks in her work, reminding us what courageous scholarship looks like and how completely we depend on its practitioners, both as scholars and as people. ¡Viva La Patrona!

    [1] Jacques Derrida, Archive Fever: A Freudian Impression (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998), 17.

    [2] This summary of Martínez’s archival project comes out of two sources. See her electrifying “Archives, Bodies, and Imagination: The Case of Juana Aguilar and Queer Approaches to History, Sexuality, and Politics,” Radical History Review 120 (fall 2014), 159–82; and the article under discussion in this forum, “Sex and the Colonial Archive: The Case of ‘Mariano’ Aguilera.”

    [3] Saidiya V. Hartman, “A Serial Biography of the Wayward,” talk given at the Center for the Humanities, UW-Madison, 9 October 2014. Also see her discussion of methodology in her Scenes of Subjection: Terror, Slavery, and Self-Making in Nineteenth-Century America (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997), 10–14.

    [4] Michel-Rolph Trouillot, Silencing the Past: Power and the Production of History (Boston: Beacon Press, 1995), 49.

    [5] Martínez, “Archives, Bodies,” 164.

    [6] For more on the Tepoztlán Institute, consult the website at or join the Facebook group at

    [7] “Race and Sex in the Eighteenth-Century Spanish Atlantic World,” a symposium held at the University of Southern California, April 12–13, 2013, and sponsored by the USC-Huntington Early Modern Studies Institute.

    [8] For more on Rodriguez’s work, as well as an insightful analysis of neoliberalism and sexuality in Mexico and the borderlands, see conference participant Laura G. Gutiérrez’s Performing Mexicanidad: Vendidas y cabareteras on the Transnational Stage (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2010). Sherry Velasco, Lesbians in Early Modern Spain (Nashville, TN: Vanderbilt University Press, 2011). “In an effort to make more intimate the connection between scholarship and activism,” Zeb Tortorici explains, he donates his royalties from his edited collection to the Grupo Gay de Bahia and other Latin American LGBT rights groups. See Zeb Tortorici, ed., Sexuality and the Unnatural in Colonial Latin America (Oakland: University of California Press, 2016), 10. Tortorici’s book is dedicated to María Elena, “whose work has pushed the boundaries of queer historical scholarship in radical and imaginative ways.”

    [9] Martínez, “Archives, Bodies, and Imagination,” 173.

    [10] Ibid., 171.

    [11] María Elena Martínez, Genealogical Fictions: Limpieza de Sangre, Religion, and Gender in Colonial Mexico (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2008), esp. 227–65.

    [12] Jessica Delgado, “Virtuous Women and the Contagion of Sin: Race, Poverty, and Women’s Spiritual Status in Colonial Mexico,” paper given at the Annual Meeting of the American Academy of Religion, Chicago, November, 2011. Also see her “Sin Temor de Dios: Women and Ecclesiastical Justice in Eighteenth-Century Toluca,” Colonial Latin American Historical Review 18, no. 1 (April 2009), 99–121.

    [13] Martínez, “Archives, Bodies, and Imagination.”

    [14] A good introduction to camp and its relationship to sex and gender is Jonathan Dollimore, “Post/Modern: On the Gay Sensibility, or the Pervert’s Revenge on Authenticity,” in Fabio Clleo, ed., Camp: Queer Aesthetics and the Performing Subject: A Reader (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1999), 221–36.

  5. Forum Introduction: “Looking Back, Looking Forward: Sex and the Colonial Archive”

    The publication of “Sex and the Colonial Archive: The Case of ‘Mariano’ Aguilera” gives HAHR readers a glimpse of the ambitious research agenda that María Elena Martínez developed before her tragic death in November 2014. Martínez was completing a book manuscript provisionally titled The Enlightened Creole Science of Race and Sex: Naturalizing the Body in the Eighteenth-Century Spanish Atlantic World, an extension of her first book’s examination of the epistemological foundations of racial discourses in Spain and colonial Mexico. This new project focused on a century during which nature came to figure centrally in explanations of sexual and racial difference. Martínez had conducted extensive research on manuscripts written by individuals invoking the authority of scientific knowledge—from metallurgy to anatomy to natural history—as they tried to relate bodies and behaviors in an empire undergoing rapid social and cultural change. As she put it in the project statement for her fellowship at the Stanford Humanities Center, which she was unable to accept as her health failed: “The book focuses on changes in racial thinking that took place among Spanish American creoles (Spaniards born in the New World) during the eighteenth century, when Spain’s Bourbon rulers promoted ‘useful knowledge,’ access to scientific texts from Europe dramatically increased in the viceregal capitals of New Spain and Peru, and Newtonianism started to dominate political discourse. During this period, Spaniards and creoles in many areas of the Hispanic Atlantic espoused theories of human difference that emphasized knowledge of the body through observation and experimentation over biblical narratives of creation and ancestral sin. Their theories drew on ancient and medieval (mainly Aristotelian and Galenic) notions of physiology but also incorporated ideas from the emerging sciences of chemistry and physics, thus increasingly granting nature autonomy from God and anticipating modern biological discourses of race,” as well as “theories of sexual difference.”[1]

    “Sex and the Colonial Archive,” which comes from that uncompleted manuscript, makes clear that secular arguments about science and difference articulated with the religious world of eighteenth-century Mexico and extended well beyond the viceregal capital to a small town like Ayotla. There, Mariano Aguilera asked a priest in 1759 to arrange for a medical inspection so that his sex could be established for the purposes of marrying a woman.

    Here is a striking opportunity to explore gender transgression, hermaphroditism, and androgyny in the colonial world, but Martínez cautions us against viewing the petition as a transparent window into transhistorical queer subjectivities. At the core of her project is a concern with methods: those of the eighteenth-century creoles who deemed certain bodies unnatural or deviant, and those of twenty-first century scholars who seek in colonial archives categories and experiences of difference that are both resonant with and dissonant from our own. Investigating Mariano Aguilera’s case reveals at least as much about these various methods as it does about any discernible “truths” of Aguilera’s gender. As such, Martínez’s essay speaks to several fields of current interest across disciplines: discourses of sexuality and the body, the history of science and medicine, and the epistemological privilege of the archive. It teems with an intellectual energy that is unsettling in the very best sense: it creatively and productively invites readers to consider the assumptions and methods that they bring to questions of sexuality and the colonial archive.

    As a work of mourning then, in the generative sense Freud gave to that phrase, we have gathered responses to “Sex and the Colonial Archive: The Case of ‘Mariano’ Aguilera” from four scholars currently doing research in the spirit of Martínez’s own remarkable intellect.[2] Marta V. Vicente is Associate Professor of History at the University of Kansas and author of Clothing the Spanish Empire: Families and the Calico Trade in the Early Modern Atlantic World (New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2006). She is currently at work on a monograph entitled The Invention of the Sexes: Debating Sex and Gender in Eighteenth-Century Spain. Ivonne del Valle is Associate Professor of Spanish and Portuguese and author of Escribiendo desde los márgenes: Colonialismo y jesuitas en el siglo XVIII. (Mexico City: Siglo XXI Editores, 2009). She is currently working on two projects: one on the drainage of the lakes of Mexico City, and the other on the role of the colonization of Spanish America in the development of new epistemologies and political theories. Zeb Tortorici is Assistant Professor of Spanish and Portuguese Languages and Literatures at New York University, the editor of Sexuality and the Unnatural in Colonial Latin America (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2016) and numerous other collections on sexuality and colonial Latin America. Pamela Voekel is Associate Professor of History at Dartmouth and the author of Alone Before God: The Religious Origins of Modernity in Mexico (Durham: Duke University Press, 2002), as well as the forthcoming For God and Liberty: Catholicism and Democracy in the Atlantic World in the Age of Revolution.

    These contributors have foregrounded and elaborated upon two broad thematics from Martínez’s essay. First, all meditate on the productive gap between what happened in the past and our accounts of those happenings. That gap, perhaps historiography’s foundational concern, is for Martínez just as for the forum contributors neither a chasm to be boldly forged nor a tragic lack to be lamented; it is instead a space within which to dwell. That dwelling remains agonistic, and such agonism reminds us of the profound stakes with which we read our archives. Writes Voekel, “The archive is simultaneously a recording of history from a particular perspective and a truth-regime that subjugates other knowledges,” and del Valle agrees: “One long sentence coming from Aguilera’s petition allows María Elena to derive important conclusions and to pose questions that must remain unanswered . . . but that in their incisiveness, point precisely to the area that can’t be contained and/or domesticated by the archive.” In response to this problematic, Vicente declares with Martínez’s work that “the archive needs to be rethought in a ‘queer’ way,” a task Tortorici elaborates in these terms: “Queerness resides in the colonial archive not necessarily through the types of acts represented within, but rather through the historian’s own practice.” In Martínez’s essay and in these four contributions, we find approaches to the archive that are queer not simply because of some putative content they recover; there is no “searching for lesbian foremothers” here, as Voekel quips. Rather these approaches are queer because of the self-conscious, active, and open-ended accounts they offer of the genealogies that connect Mariano Aguilera’s moment to our own, as well as of the distances that hold his moment apart from our own. “Queer then, for María Elena, becomes a way of writing about and embodying the past—a way of reimagining our relationship to it” (Tortorici).

    Second, the contributors track the wide and variegated discursive practices with which subjectivities like that of Mariano Aguilera shift, take shape, and shift again. As Voekel opines, while Martínez reveals the ways that science waxed as religion waned, she also refused the “plotline of a celebrity death-match between liberatory secularism and despotic religion,” attending as Voekel herself has long done in her own work to the ever-volatile reworking of sexed and gendered being at the intersection of the secular and the ecclesiastical. Such being has little to do with essence, authenticity, or any other foundational ground, Tortorici reminds us, and everything to do with phenomenology, or “the meanings and lived experiences of sex and gender” as they performatively appear at multiple levels: under medical inspection in 1759, in the documentation of such an inspection, in the adjudication of its results, in the responses to that adjudication, in the gaps and absences and equivocations of all those levels, and—circling back to the first thematic above—in all the varied interpretations of those levels, including our own. With Voekel, del Valle marks the ongoing encounter between the secular and the religious in Martínez’s essay, calling it a productive “paradox”: “the inability of science to show itself better fitted to undo the ‘evils’ created by natural law and Christian morality.” When we come to understand that science does not “liberate experience from the hold of tradition and religion,” we are released from any number of meliorist and progressivist narratives and instead attend to the ways gender is at once “fixed” and “in play.” What is more, as Vicente highlights, “emotion, passion and also imagination” prove central to that ongoing subjectival dynamic, particularly in the confessional format of many cases like Aguilera’s.

    Philia begins with the possibility of survival. Surviving—that is the other name of a mourning whose possibility is never to be awaited. For one does not survive without mourning,” writes Jacques Derrida in The Politics of Friendship. [3] As Pascale-Anne Brault and Michael Naas put it, reading that very passage, “One friend must always go before the other; one friend must die first. There is no friendship without the possibility that one friend will die before the other, perhaps right before the other’s eyes . . . and so, surviving, would be left to bury, to commemorate, and to mourn.”[4] It is ever so easy, and perhaps utterly necessary, to forget the possibility of such survival, to refuse to await its risk. Until, of course, one does not survive and the others are left, as we are. We gather with the other contributors here, the remains of a philia, surviving as we must, to offer this forum in mourning for María Elena. And this mourning is a kind of work: Trauerarbeit. The last lines of Freud’s “Mourning and Melancholia” read: “As we already know, the interdependence of the complicated problems of the mind forces us to break off every enquiry before it is completed—till the outcome of some other enquiry can come to its assistance.”[5] So we invite the reader to survive with us, coming to our assistance by continuing the urgent work María Elena Martínez left before us.

    [1] María Elena Martínez, “Description of Project, Stanford Humanities Center Application,” Author’s Papers.

    [2] Sigmund Freud, “Mourning and Melancholia,” in The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, vol. 14, trans. and ed. James Strachey (London: Hogarth Press, 1957), 244.

    [3] Jacques Derrida, The Politics of Friendship (New York: Verso, 2006), 13.

    [4] Pascale-Anne Brault and Michael Naas, eds., The Work of Mourning (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2001), 1.

    [5] Freud, “Mourning and Melancholia,” 258.

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